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Mill Spring Fire Dept. seeks volunteers to grow with

Firefighters are among the most respected emergency workers in the country. There are more than a million firefighters in the nation and almost 75 percent of them are volunteers.
Volunteer firefighters are the valiant backbone of emergency protection in Polk County.
The Mill Spring Volunteer Fire Department one of six volunteer companies in the county will host a special meeting Thursday, Feb. 4 for all Polk County residents interested in becoming part of this exciting and rewarding activity.
Mill Spring Chief Trent Carswell said the meeting is to be at 7 p.m. at the departments main station on Old Rutherfordton Road. The meeting is open to anyone interested in the fire service and is not limited just to those who wish to rush into burning buildings. The chief said his department and others like it need more than just strong young men enamored with the romance of firefighting.
“Were not just looking for people to fight fires,” Carswell said. “We are also looking for people who can work in a support role by helping with administrative and other duties. A member who keeps the books has the same standing in the department as the firefighter who responds to the most calls.”
Carswell said his department, which currently has 33 active members, hopes to expand to about 50 firefighters. The chief said the departments recruiting is assisted by a four-year grant from FEMA aimed at growing and supporting volunteer fire departments. This SAFER grant includes attractive incentives for volunteers who meet certain requirements. The incentives range from a tee shirt to free college tuition. They are based on points for such things as a firefighters dedication, response, station maintenance, training and hours spent in volunteer service.
The chief said the department officers and Board of Directors are seeking ideas from community members on how to grow the department and those ideas will be welcomed at the Feb. 4 meeting. Those attending the informational meeting will be given a tour of the departments main station, examine the firefighting apparatus and see demonstrations of how that equipment is used.
“We as fire departments have to find what challenges people in order to bring them here and keep them here,” Carswell said. The Polk County departments are especially looking for volunteers who can respond during daytime hours. Most of the department members work day jobs so coverage of emergencies is especially tough between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., he said.
The departments welcome women and minorities. The Mill Spring grant offers special incentives for Hispanics, African Americans and other minorities who become active members and meet certain training requirements. The incentives include free English classes and other free training.
Between 1984 and 2006, the number of volunteer firefighters nationwide fell by 8 percent, or nearly 74,000, according to the National Fire Protection Association. During the same period, the number of emergency calls to volunteer fire departments doubled. Volunteer fire and rescue personnel represent 72 percent of the nations 1.1 million firefighters.
More than 50 percent of volunteers are associated with departments that cover areas with populations of less than 2,500, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The Mill Spring department is one of those. The area it covers is basically White Oak Township, which had a population of 2,049 in the 2000 Census.
Carswell said the requirements to become a certified volunteer firefighter are about the same as the requirements to become a paid firefighter. After certification, North Carolina requires a volunteer attend at least 32 hours of training a year to maintain that certification. Volunteers in Mill Spring easily exceed that requirement. The training is free with classes offered at night or on Saturday. The department also provides all the protective clothing a firefighter needs a set of gear that costs upward of $1,500 per person, a two-way radio and a pager.
There are six fire departments in Polk County: Mill Spring, Green Creek, Sunny View, Columbus, Tryon and Saluda. Columbus, Tryon and Saluda each have at least one paid firefighter but the other three are all-volunteer departments.
In addition to men and women meeting certification requirements the department needs people who can take on administrative tasks such as inventory tracking, keeping training records, preparing budget reports, writing grant applications and helping with station and truck maintenance.
“Everybody has a skill and we need that talent in the department,” Carswell said. “Our firefighter of the year in 2007 was recognized for his administrative contribution to the department more than for his physical contribution.”
Active members must be at least 18 years of age, have a valid drivers license, pass a physical exam, be drug free and live in Polk County, Carswell said. Those not living in the Mill Spring district will be referred to the chief of the district in which they live. In Mill Spring the department pays for the physical examination, for required immunizations and for all the training. The department even has a plan to reimburse volunteers for the pay they might lose by responding to calls or attending training sessions during working hours. The chief can be reached at 828-894-2454. The main station is at 145 Old Rutherfordton Road, behind the Mill Spring post office and across the street from the old elementary school.
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